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Rose Theater's latest is a triumph
By Bob Fischbach / World-Herald staff writer


The Grocer’s Goblin and The Little Mermaid
What: Fairy tales adapted for the stage
Where: Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St.
When: Friday through Feb. 16. Showtimes: 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets: $18 all seats. Discounts at Hy-Vee supermarkets. Reservations required.
Information: 402-345-4849 or rosetheater.org

* * *

The Rose Theater's latest world premiere, “The Grocer's Goblin & The Little Mermaid,” hits creative high notes on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start.

Maybe with Rose playwright in residence Brian Guehring, who wrote a script that expertly melds two Hans Christian Andersen fairytales into one cohesive hourlong show; and the show's director, Stephanie Jacobson, who has a background in puppetry and found ways to tell these stories better with puppets in some roles than they ever could be with live actors alone.

Scenic designer Brad Carlson also gets a major credit, for imagining the two-story interior of a grocery that quickly bursts open to let the undersea world of mermaids wash over us.

Ditto Kyle Toth's lighting design, which takes us through key transition moments and helps the audience feel like it's a part of the ocean kingdom — and of the show's magic in moments of wonder, such as when the Little Mermaid ascends to the night sky.

Brittany Merenda designed the eye-catching projections that appear on three large screens, backdrops for the palace of a prince the mermaid falls in love with, as well as for undersea locales, shorelines and abstract splashes of color that represent an underwater garden. Props master Liz Spray designed the puppets, including the Goblin operated by Jacqueline Kappes and Roderick Cotton.

Finally, sound designer and composer Joe Lullo's beautiful underscoring, heavy on harp and guitar, adds dreamlike and sentimental notes in all the right places.

While the goblin story uses three-dimensional Bunraku puppets (their operators can be seen as they bring objects to life), the mermaid story turns to backlit rod puppets (shadow puppets) as the Little Mermaid swims with her sisters, her grandmother and the Sea Witch.

Live actors add to the backlit shadows, as Sarah Carlson-Brown plays the Little Mermaid and Lullo is the prince she falls in love with. Other shadow puppets depict sailors on a storm-tossed ship, circling sea birds and more.

The themes of the two stories, about selfless acts of love and the desire for new ways of experiencing the world, reinforce each other seamlessly. But don't expect the same Little Mermaid story as the Disney animated movie. This one's more true to the original fairytale.

Cotton does a standout job as the voice of the Goblin, while Lullo and Kelsey Celek are just right as the grocer and his loquacious wife. Carlson-Brown, Walter Shatley and Kathryn Stahl give voice to inanimate objects in the grocery, after the Goblin steals the gift of gab from the grocer's wife. Katie Otten plays a student who visits the grocery and introduces the Goblin to the world of storybooks.

Actors operating the shadow puppets are quite visible, several dressed all in white as they dash from behind one screen to another. It can be distracting, and I wished they were in black. I also wondered why the Sea Witch was voiced by a man, though Shatley's interpretation of the lines is flawless. Some transitions took longer than ideal.

But overall, the show's creativity, its visual punch and the clever way it blends and tells two classic stories is more than impressive. Kids of all ages should appreciate it, as well as the adults who bring them. It's simply unlike anything you've seen at the Rose before.

Contact the writer: Bob Fischbach

bob.fischbach@owh.com    |   402-444-1269

Bob reviews movies and local theater productions and writes stories about those topics, as well.

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